The Continuous Improvement Blog

4 quick wins to increase the capacity of your back office function

Written by Colin McArdle on 06 Jun 2018


All organisations in the service industry want to operate as efficiently as possible so they can deliver a faster, better quality and more reliable service to their customers.

And ideally, they want to do this with as few resources as possible.

But are you maximising the capacity of your back office staff?

Contrary to some belief, failure to deliver a smooth service to your customers can usually be traced back to a process problem, as opposed to a people problem.

Here we share four quick wins for adapting your processes and the working environment to ensure you utilise staff time as much as possible.

1. Observe processes in action

The only way to truly understand what staff are doing day-to-day is to observe them in action. In Lean Management, we call this going to “Gemba”’, a Japanese term for where the work takes place.

We can’t solely rely on spreadsheets or what a manager thinks happens to understand the work our staff undertake on a daily basis. Go take a look, armed with a camera to take photos and videos. What can you see that takes longer than it should? Are there obvious tweaks you can adjust to make it easier and faster for staff to perform certain tasks?

While you’re at it, be sure to speak to staff too - as the ones performing the tasks, day-in-day-out, you can bet they’ll have lots of ideas for process improvements that would free them up to do more in the same amount of time.

2. Organise the workspace

Take a look around the workspace. Are people losing time having to constantly search for items they need? Do they have to move to another room or department unnecessarily to complete a simple task? All this time is waste - time that could be spent on activities that add value to your customers.

Simply organising the workspace in a way that reduces the time people spend looking for things they need to do their job will allow you to get more from your employees.

This is the concept of 5s workplace organisation, a systematic approach to creating a well-organised environment designed for optimum productivity. The first step is to ‘Sort’ - remove items from the workspace that aren’t needed. The second step is ‘Set in Order’; labelling remaining items and placing them in locations easily accessible to workers. This is followed by ‘Shine’ (clean equipment regularly, so it’s ready to use), ‘Standardise’ (implement standard processes) and ‘Sustain’ (maintain standards and continue to improve).

It's not just the surrounding workspace that can be better organised to improve productivity. Simple things like organising your computer can improve production. For example;

  • Sort - delete all unnecessary icons, files and folders from your desktop
  • Set in order - organise remaining files and folders for instant access
  • Shine - clean your PC and check for problems
  • Standardise - develop standards for when to delete emails or files (e.g. delete emails that are 3 or more years old)
  • Sustain - allocate five minutes a week to run through the 5s's to keep things uncluttered and in full working order.

The idea is that the workplace is created in a such way that will eliminate time spent on non-value-adding tasks.

3. Standardise your processes

Are your staff aware of the most efficient ways of doing things? Or does a lack of guidance mean things are taking longer than they should?

Having clear documentation and guidance on the methods and processing times for a given job is essential for ensuring you can ensure high productivity levels and meet customer demand.

In Lean, we call this ‘Standardised work’. And it’s simple. Provide documentation on best practice and ensure everyone in the team follows it. If tasks are being carried out in the most efficient way possible, you’ll create more capacity so you can deliver more to customers.

4. Monitor progress daily

No matter how organised your back office is, problems occur daily. You need a systematic way of identifying problems and solving them before the customer feels any impact. 

A simple solution is to introduce daily process meetings. This is where all workers get together with managers at the start of the day to share what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and whether they have any obstacles that prevent them doing their job. Raising these issues daily means you can eliminate them before they become a problem.

Examples of these types of approaches are Short Interval Management (SIM) and the Scrum methodology.

Increasing the capacity of your back office operations doesn’t have to mean hiring more staff. There are simple ways you can maximise the capacity of your existing staff, that involve analysing your current state of processes, and identifying opportunities to eliminate waste and become more efficient.

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Topics: service industry, lean services

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.